EPA Okays Stronger Auto Emissions Standards Now in CA, 13 Other States

The Environmental Protection Agency today granted California's request for a waiver allowing greater limits on auto tailpipe emissions, a move that effectively speeds up the phasing-in of the Obama administration's fuel-efficiency standards in as many as 13 other states.

The EPA billed its decision, which was widely expected and fulfills a campaign promise made by the president, as a return to long-standing precedent of regulating under the Clean Air Act.

But the waiver is likely to bring short-term benefits for California as well as the 13 states that joined its waiver request, permitting that group to impose stricter auto emissions standards between now and 2012.

In 2012, California has agreed to equalize its program with the federal government's, EPA officials explained to reporters today. That paves the way for the Obama administration's 35.5 mpg fuel-efficiency standard to begin taking effect in the 2016 model year.

California lawmakers reacted excitedly to the announcement. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), referencing the Bush administration's controversial denial of the emissions waiver, remarked: "It should be comforting to know that the [EPA] is now putting science and the law back into the driver's seat rather than politics and special interests."

Meanwhile, the auto industry was as glum as could be expected, given that it has already agreed to the Obama administration's fuel-efficiency rules and agreed to drop all lawsuits contesting the waiver request. "We are hopeful the granting of this waiver will not undermine the enormous efforts put forth to create the national program," Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers President Dave McCurdy said in a statement.